The Braves have signed infielder Andrew Velazquez, and left-hander Ben Bowden to minor league contracts, as per both players’ MLB.com profile pages. For Velazquez, it’s a return to the organization, as he elected free agency after being outrighted off the Braves’ 40-man roster at the start of November.
His trip through the market will now take him back to Atlanta, as Velazquez is still seeking his first big league appearance in a Braves uniform. The Braves claimed Velazquez off waivers from the Angels in early September but he played exclusively at Triple-A Gwinnett, as Atlanta never had an injury situation develop that would’ve gotten Velasquez a look on the Major League roster.
This same type of depth role probably awaits Velazquez in 2024, though since the Braves dealt Nicky Lopez to the White Sox, Velazquez might have a better shot at claiming a bench spot. Both glove-first players, Lopez is projected for a $3.9MM arbitration salary and Velazquez $740K, though due to the non-tender, Velazquez isn’t on any kind of guaranteed salary as a minor league signing.
The 29-year-old Velazquez has appeared in each of the last six Major League seasons, hitting .189/.244/.293 over 624 plate appearances. Most of that action (349 PA) came with the Angels in 2022, when Velazquez ended up assuming mostly everyday shortstop duties when David Fletcher fell out of favor with the team. While he didn’t produce anything at the plate, Velasquez was a big help on defense, with +11 Defensive Runs Saved, +3 Outs Above Average, and a +3.0 UZR/150 in 906 innings at shortstop.
However, his defensive numbers were all deep into the minuses over 233 1/3 innings last year, as Velazquez appeared in only 54 games and spent most of 2023 in Triple-A. It could be just a small sample size issue, though given Velazquez’s lackluster offense, he needs to be at least an above-average glove to get him any chance of sticking as a big league backup. In terms of versatility, Velasquez has played mostly shortstop, with some time at second base and center field, and a handful of appearances at third base and left field earlier in his career.
Bowden’s MLB resume consists of 35 2/3 relief innings over 39 appearances with the Rockies in 2021. A second-round pick for Colorado in the 2016 draft, Bowden has posted a lot of strikeouts during his minor league career, yet also a lot of walks and home runs. Spending most of his minor league time in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League hasn’t helped in that regard, though Bowden also gave up eight homers in 52 1/3 innings pitching with the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate in 2023 (with a 4.64 ERA, 32.2% strikeout rate, and 13.6% walk rate).
The Phillies, Giants, and Rays have all gotten looks at Bowden after Tampa first claimed him off waivers from the Rockies in April 2022, so the southpaw’s ability to miss bats is still a point of interest for clubs. Atlanta now becomes the latest team to see if Bowden can harness his control enough to become a viable option for the Major League bullpen.